The Way I See It: Dr. J.A. “Bob” Dewberry ’47

Consider this column a virtual office water cooler, a forum for our alumni to offer a glimpse of life as they see it. Whether these insights come at the outset or end of a career or somewhere in between, they might just spark some inspiration for the rest of us.
June 26th, 2018

Dr. J.A. "Bob" Dewberry

Dr. J.A. “Bob” Dewberry ’47 practiced in Dallas for 52 years, one of the early endodontists “plowing new ground as we went along.” He developed a reputation as a problem solver in the field, eventually presenting clinics for the American Dental Association and Centers for Disease Control and co-authoring a book, “Endodontic Therapy,” with Dr. Frank Weine. As a part-time faculty member in the dental school’s endodontics clinic, he shared expertise with students for many years.

What was especially distinctive about your time in dental school?

My classmates and I were most all very young, as only two years of college were required for us to apply to Baylor University College of Dentistry, the dental school’s name in those days. When I was a student, the four academic years were compressed into three calendar years, so we went to school all year long.

The dental school was housed in a brick building on Hall Street between Live Oak and Bryan, across from the old St. Paul hospital. Dr. Glenn Lacey, professor of operative dentistry, was the respected solid spine of the school. He was tough on incompetence; often dramatic, like tossing a piece of lab work out an open window in disgust. It’s hard to believe how primitive dentistry was in those days with no technology. But then it was an art rather than teachable standards.

Radiation exposure was approached casually, with no protection for the patients or ourselves, and several X-ray machines operating simultaneously. Full-mouth X-rays could require up to 90 seconds total exposure time, and a complete “do-over” was not uncommon.

The first two years of dental school were comparable to those of my friends who opted for medical school. In fact one of our best professors, Dr. John Cameron in anatomy, taught the identical class at Southwestern Medical School. He was an inspiring and brilliant gentleman. These two tough years saw a few dropouts. Our wartime class was so small they were a significant fraction of our total, while at least two in our small class elected not to practice dentistry. An early Texas governor, Pat Neff, handed us our diplomas.

Did your early practice years teach you a thing or two?

After graduation, I spent the first year as an “associate” in two separate established dental offices. These men bragged that they had an associate, but they sent me the dregs they didn’t want. After these false starts I struck out on my own in a building where I practiced for half a century. I am in awe at the dental offices today complete with technology we never dreamed of, but at a huge price!

I had an extra operatory in my new office that I offered to Dr. Seth Lee Barron, the only endodontist at the dental school, as he was nearing retirement. Known as “his boy,” I received from him the rudiments of the specialty — as little as was known at the time — and it gave me a built-in referral system in suburban Dallas. This was a more convenient option than the Medical Arts downtown.

But the Korean War was in full sway in 1952 needing dentists, physicians, nurses and veterinarians. As a young dentist without children, I was a cinch to be drafted under the “Doctor Draft.” I was offered a captaincy and spent two years in the Air Force’s flight training headquarters. My commanding officers in the service said they knew that their “Baylor” grads were the best dental operators.

It was during this time that Dr. Barron, who was well into his 80s, opted to retire to raising flowers. The dentist who took over my office temporarily for general practice never gave me a red cent but stole my phone number as well as anything not nailed down. So I started again from “ground zero” upon returning to Dallas.

Did you learn from your patients?

As one of the very few endodontists in town, I had a fascinating, and often famous, group of people referred to me, including the “Mighty Men” of Dallas and their families. As fate would have it, my office was about four blocks from what was then the site of Southwestern Medical School, the source of many of my patients. These patients ranged from researchers to students to department heads, all from whom I learned so much.

What about your own experiences in the dental chair?

I would be remiss not to mention a life-changing event that not only enabled me to feel decades younger; it improved my health and well-being exponentially.

Having lost all of my maxillary posterior teeth with genetically acquired periodontal bone loss, I was unable to eat a normal diet and dealing with a loose free-end saddle replacement. This impacted my health and self-esteem, so I searched Dallas to find an answer among the stars of dentistry.

Answers of the period were, “Impossible, as your sinuses are too low and large.” I would have to have a surgical implant taken from the crest of my ileum. That was until I met Dr. Tom Wilson, who looked at my film and simply said, “When do you want to start?” Tom placed six implants in one sitting, and I never had the slightest discomfort. Bless this man, my hero, who made my life infinitely better.

This revealed to me the importance of a functional complement of teeth to health, well-being and longevity. Expert dentistry impacts our lives far beyond the aesthetic component.

Though implants have become an option to endodontic therapy in many cases, I see them as a complement rather than competition. And many of our recent graduates in endodontics are trained in implantology as well. We should never forget the importance of a good diagnosis, which, like a well-done endodontic treatment, remains in the area of art along with science.

What’s the best part of your life these days?

I have been abundantly blessed in so many ways they are difficult to list. My beautiful and fun 84-year-old wife who plays a really good game of tennis twice weekly “suggests” that we go to the gym for a daily workout. Her suggestion is my command, and she keeps me going as well as possible as I near age 92.

Barbara and I have made 22 enviable monthlong driving trips through Western Europe, and she has been the best of travel companions. We have had fun, laughs and a growing family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

— Carolyn Cox